Shifting Ideals of Beauty

Look in the mirror. What do you see? The image we each find ourselves staring at changes dramatically by individual, but we are often equally tortured by what we believe we should see.

Body image in America has fluctuated drastically over time. What once was an ideal image is now seen as grotesque, and we often can’t accept ourselves as we are.

Each decade has brought up new problems with body image. In the early 1900s women’s rib cages suffered permanent damage from corsets that were much too tight, displacing their organs and making breathing difficult. The 1920s brought androgyny, a huge contrast to the demand for femininity from the 1930s and 40s and the hourglass figure of the 50s. This dramatic difference in body image is hard on the body and the mind, especially since none of these figures are easily achieved.

Androgyny came back with Twiggy in the 60s and 70s, introducing the underweight figure as an ideal. Dieting also became popular at this time, turning into what is now a $60 billion dollar industry. The 1980s advocated for more workouts and gym time, pressuring women to be physically fit as well as anorexic, causing a lot of strain on the body. In the 1990s came Kate Moss and her thin figure, highlighting even more brightly the health problems introduced through the media.

Stress over body image has also brought such serious issues as bulimia and anorexia into the mainstream. Before the 1960s and 70s, anorexia nervosa was little known, but thanks to impossible ideals and Photoshop, such health issues have become unnecessarily common.

Recently, people have begun to send their photos to various countries to have them photoshopped to represent each country’s ideal. No two pictures have been returned the same, showing the arbitrary nature of beauty standards — there is no fixed ideal, and what one culture considers beautiful another may not. In Burma, beautiful women are identified by their long necks, created by wearing metal rings that stretch their muscles; if the rings are removed the woman’s neck will no longer support her head. In Asia, skin whitening is a popular process, though it often damages the skin. Spain promotes a healthier image by prizing the pear-shaped figure while France is fining and imprisoning those who advertise extreme thinness. Tonga looks at large amounts of body fat as beautiful, and Mauritania still sends women and girls to fat farms to gain large amounts of weight. Parts of China still prize “lily feet,” where the feet of young girls are bound; as the foot grows, it breaks, until the grown woman appears to have miniscule feet.


Ideals of beauty are ever-changing, and what beauty does to our minds and bodies is a gruesome process. We are at war with the media and with ourselves, angry for the idealized beauty and angry that we don’t meet the standards. We have 206 bones in our bodies, we have hearts, brains, hair, pigmentation and an unlimited combination of these features.

You will never look like the person in the magazine; the person in the magazine doesn’t even look like that. The picture is photoshopped, but you are real. Isn’t real better than being fake, in every sense of the word?